In terms of the regulatory framework, all higher education programmes must be accredited by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) before a public or private higher education institution may offer such a programme. A programme is defined as "A purposeful and structured set of learning experiences that leads to a qualification". In addition, the HEQC describes a programme as a planned combination of learning outcomes leading to a qualification registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
. A qualification is the formal recognition and certification of learning achievement awarded by the accredited provider.
To be accredited, a programme must be a full qualification complying with the rules and regulations stipulated by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)
. A new programme is described as a programme that is newly conceptualised and not previously accredited, or a revised programme in which the changes effected constitute more than 50% of the programme.
Any public or private higher education institution wanting to offer a new programme must submit an application for accreditation of the programme through the HEQC-online accreditation system
For detailed information on the programme accreditation process, see the Criteria for Programme Accreditation (reference: Criteria for Programme Accreditation
) and the Framework for Programme Accreditation (reference: Framework for Programme Accreditation
Processing an application
Once a completed application is received, it is screened for completeness and a preliminary analysis is undertaken to verify that the information that it contains is sufficiently comprehensive to enable a full programme evaluation. Where an application is incomplete, it is returned to the institution.
An evaluation panel is constituted, or one or more evaluators are appointed. Panellists and evaluators are academic peers from the field related to the programme for evaluation.
The evaluation panel or the evaluator(s) produce a report using the evaluation criteria and make a recommendation regarding the accreditation of the programme. Three possible recommendations can be made:
provisional accreditation (no conditions)
provisional accreditation with conditions
The report, and a recommendation from the HEQC secretariat, are submitted to the Accreditation Committee which makes a final recommendation. The recommendation and any conditions set by the Committee are sent to the higher education institution that submitted the application. Copies of the report are forwarded to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)
and to SAQA.
In cases where a programme is not recommended for accreditation, the institution may make ONE (1) representation. This representation:
should be in writing
should not repeat the contents of the original application
should be confined to the information provided by the institution during the evaluation process: that is, information that was part of the institution's application and that was made available to the panel of evaluators
may include new and additional information that is relevant to the reasons for non-accreditation as set out by the report of the HEQC
should address the report and recommendations of the Accreditation Committee focusing on any errors and omissions that may have occurred in the evaluation process
should reach the HEQC within 21 working days of the date of the letter
Should the decision not to accredit the programme be upheld, the institution may not submit the same programme for accreditation for a period of one year following the original date of submission of the original application for programme accreditation.
Provisional accreditation with conditions
In cases where provisional accreditation with conditions is recommended, institutions are given a timeframe to address the conditions set. At the end of this period, a report on the conditions must be submitted to the HEQC. The report is submitted to a panel of peers to evaluate if the conditions were met. A site visit may be conducted to gather additional information pertinent to the programme or institution. The panel produces a report on its evaluation and submits it to the HEQC. This report is tabled at the Accreditation Committee. The outcome of the evaluation is communicated to the institution. In cases where the conditions have not been met, provisional accreditation may be withdrawn.
The accreditation phase
Institutions may enroll students only on completion of all the regulatory requirements, including accreditation. Public institutions are required to obtain Programme and Qualification Mix (PQM) approval prior to applying for accreditation. Private institutions must be registered by the DoE in accordance with the Higher Education Act, No 101 of 1997 (reference: Higher Education Act 101 of 1997
). In accordance with the regulations for the Registration of Private Higher Education Providers, 2002, institutions are accredited for programmes per site of delivery and mode of delivery. The HEQC reserves the right to undertake a site visit to review a programme for accreditation purposes.
Midway through the programme, or when stipulated by the HEQC, the institution will be required to submit a progress report for evaluation by the HEQC secretariat. A site visit will be undertaken only when circumstances warrant it. The progress report should provide details on the following:
Steps taken to address conditions set by the HEQC when the candidacy phase status was granted.
Progress in relation to the programme implementation plan submitted to the HEQC. This includes progress on implementation of the policies, strategies, conditions, etc. specified in the criteria for the candidacy phase, and with the provision of the required infrastructure.
Structures, strategies, processes, etc. which are in operation or in development to ensure that the HEQC's criteria for programme process, programme output and impact, and programme review in the accreditation phase of the programme are met.
Within one year of the first cohort of students graduating from the new programme, the institution must demonstrate that it has met the conditions set by the HEQC during the candidacy phase, which include conditions relating to the evaluation of the mid-term report from the institution. Acceptable reasons and relevant evidence have to be provided in instances where the conditions have not been met. The institution is also required to conduct a self-evaluation of the programme against the HEQC's criteria for the accreditation phase, which include those for programme input, process, output and impact, and review; and to submit a programme improvement plan to address areas in need of attention as identified in the self-evaluation. A site visit may be conducted, if necessary.
If the institution's submission is approved by the HEQC, the programme obtains full accreditation status.
New programmes are accredited as follows:
New one- and two-year programmes may be accredited for a maximum of three years.
New programmes with a duration of three years and longer may be accredited for a maximum of six years.